13 Reasons Why You Need to Play Online Poker Now – Before the Game Is Completely Dead

By Randy Ray
Published on May 26, 2017
Online Poker with Chips

Online poker is a much different game today than it was a decade ago.

Many factors have changed internet poker, including improved strategy, stronger competition, and a bigger focus on recreational players.

The end result is that you’ll have a tougher time making money with the game these days.

But this isn’t to say that you can’t still profit from online poker – you just need to hurry up and do so before the game is completely dead.

Here are 13 reasons why you should crush internet poker now because it will fall off the map in the future

1. Regulation Is Killing Liquidity

The internet was very much the Wild West when Planet Poker dealt the first-ever online poker hand in 1998.

And the game thrived in these unregulated conditions for years.

But this started to change in 2010, when France became the first country to legalize and regulate online poker.

At the time, it seemed like regulation would help internet poker by bringing it into the mainstream. But all it’s really done is divide up player pools across the world, making for smaller cash games and tournaments.

A perfect example of this can be seen with France (pop. 66.81 million), Italy (60.8m), and Spain (46.56m).

Three of Europe’s largest countries, all three have segregated and underperforming markets. And while these countries have made headway towards sharing liquidity, the damage to poker has already been done.

Smaller markets have also made things difficult on the largest online poker operators. Here are a few examples:

  • Greece imposes a 35% tax rate on online gaming revenue, which has scared poker sites away.
  • The Netherlands has imposed a 29% tax rate, which isn’t much better than Greece.
  • The Czech Republic and Poland have extremely strict markets that make it hard for operators to excel.

Once a wide-open world full of possibilities, online poker has too many different regulated and divided markets to deal with.

The only hope is that more countries legalize the game and begin sharing players with each other. But by the time this happens, people’s interest in online poker might die.

2. The US Market Is in Limbo

The United States was the large driver of internet poker’s early success. Sites like Full Tilt, Pacific Poker (888), Party Poker, and PokerStars made fortunes by serving the US.

But this changed greatly following the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006, and Black Friday in 2011.

The latter caused the exit of PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker, along with the closure of the Cereus Network (Absolute / UB Poker).

PokerStars has since come back, earning a license in New Jersey. But the American online poker market is a vastly different place than it was prior to 2011.

Here’s a look at the market’s current regulated landscape:

  • Delaware – Population 945.9k
  • New Jersey – Pop. 8.96 million
  • Nevada – Pop. 2.89 million

These three states only make up approximately 12.8 million of the United States’ 321.4 million people. And only Delaware and Nevada are currently sharing liquidity.

As for the rest of the US, it’s comprised of black markets served by sites like Americas Cardroom (Winning Network), BetOnline, Chico Network, and Ignition.

While these sites give Americans online poker options – and some relatively easy games – they’re nothing like Cereus, Full Tilt, and PokerStars at their heights.

3. Online Gaming Companies Are Focusing Less on Poker

Given that online poker traffic has declined over the past few years, gaming companies are putting their focus elsewhere.

Nowhere is this more apparent than with PokerStars, the global leader in internet poker. Their parent company, Amaya Gaming (soon to be Stars Group Inc.), has focused on diversifying in recent years.

Take a look at some of their diversification moves below:

  • Stars Casino – PokerStars has rolled out an online casino with blackjack, roulette, slots, and other traditional casino games.
  • BetStars – Sports betting site that offers lines on all major sports.
  • StarsDraft – Daily fantasy sports site that serves a number of countries.
  • Amaya has preached diversification in their quarterly revenue meetings.

Considering that online poker traffic is getting smaller with each passing year, expect internet gaming companies to continue focusing on their casino and sports betting products.

4.  Competition Is Always Getting Tougher

To say that poker players today are tougher than ones from past years is a huge understatement.

Today’s average player would crush many pros from the mid and late 2000s. And the reason why is because strategy has advanced and become more widely available.

This isn’t to say that players didn’t have the resources to get better a decade ago. But it’s so much easier to find good strategy resources today.

Here are comparisons between resources that players had in 2006, versus today:

  • 2006 – Articles, books, coaching, forums, and online hand histories.
  • Today – Articles, books, coaching, forums, Heads-Up Displays (HUDs), training videos, Twitch streaming, and hand histories.

The advent of HUDs, training videos, and Twitch have really helped players take their games to another level. Now, any player can watch over the shoulders of skilled online players through training videos and Twitch streams.

5.  More Poker Bots

As you may know, poker bots are programs designed to play online poker. And these programs can pay big dividends because they never get tired or tilted.

Initially, bots weren’t a huge deal because they didn’t have the programming to beat human players in complex no-limit games. But these programs are now able to beat micro and low-stakes no-limit games, meaning they’re more of a nuisance.

What’s worse is that we’re seeing a greater frequency of bots at unregulated sites.

Such is the case at Americas Cardroom (ACR), where a TwoPlusTwo user wrote about how he made $30,000 with bots.

The good news is that ACR and other poker rooms have taken steps to rid their sites of bots. But the downside is that we’re still seeing a steady influx of these programs.

6. Bots Are Getting Better

The problem described above is only exacerbated when you consider that poker bots have improved greatly over the past several years.

The University of Alberta and Carnegie Mellon University have shown how quickly bots can advance with a concentrated effort. This is especially the case with Carnegie Mellon’s competitions against noted poker pros.

In April 2015, their artificial intelligence, Claudico, matched up against a team of Bjorn Li, Dong Kim, Doug Polk, and Jason Les.

Claudico and the humans faced off in no-limit hold’em over a combined 80,000 hands. The humans easily won the competition, earning a collective $732,713.

In 2017, Carnegie Mellon reloaded the competition with their new and improved bot, Libratus. This time the program faced a team of Daniel McAulay, Jimmy Chou, Les, and Kim.

Many were confident that the humans could win again. But Libratus dominated the poker pros over the course of 120,000 hands, winning $1,766,250.

Obviously the average online player doesn’t have Carnegie Mellon or Alberta researchers designing their bots. But give it time and rogue programs will eventually be good enough to beat mid stakes on a consistent basis.

At this point, it’ll become a war between bots and poker sites – one which causal players will choose to sit out for good.

7.  High Volume Players Get Fewer Rewards

One of online poker’s biggest problems in the early 2010s was bumhunting, where skilled players start heads-up tables and refuse to play anybody of equal or greater skill.

Bumhunting was / is particularly harmful because it discourages recreational players and prevents poker sites from bringing in fresh deposits.

Many internet poker rooms’ answer to bumhunting and other unfavorable practices was to adopt a recreational-friendly model, which involves catering to casual players above all.

And part of this effort includes redistributing rewards from high-volume grinders towards low-volume players. Giving high-volume players fewer rewards accomplishes the following:

  • It gives more to the poker sites’ best customers (i.e. depositors).
  • It makes recreational players’ deposits last longer, leading to happier casual players.
  • High-volume players are discouraged from excessive multi-tabling in an effort to get high rakeback.

Overall, rewards distribution is good for the poker economy because recreational players are encouraged to deposit more often. But the downside is that this also makes it harder to become a successful poker pro.

If you’ve always dreamed of dominating the online poker felt, then you’d better get in now before the rewards / rakeback reach such a low point that it’s impossible to make a living through multi-tabling.

8. Fewer Freerolls & Prize Packages

While high-volume players are being hit the hardest by reduced rewards, this is becoming a problem across the board.

Since poker sites aren’t making as much money as they used to, they’re not as generous with bonuses. Furthermore, I just don’t see the kind of unique promotions that brought myself and others to the game.

Here are some of the shifts I’ve noticed since the turn of the decade:

  • Less Rakeback – Rakeback was the biggest driving force in convincing players to continue grinding for hours (even if they were losing). But rakeback has been slashed from 20-30% to the single digits at many rooms.
  • Fewer Freerolls – Poker sites used to run freerolls all the time in an effort to draw new players and retain them. I can see why poker rooms don’t hand out free money when the online game is slumping. Unfortunately, fewer recreational players hang around when they can’t enjoy freerolls.
  • Fewer Reload Bonuses – Signup bonuses are still a staple at many poker sites. But you don’t see reload bonuses offered much anymore.
  • Less Land-based Prize Packages – One thing that really helped fuel online poker’s popularity was live tournament packages. These not only give you a chance to win big money, but they also let you enjoy experiences like a luxury hotel stay, parties, and poker gear. It’s a shame that fewer live packages are offered than ever before.
  • Fewer Unique Promotions – More poker site used to offer leaderboard races where Christmas presents, electronics, gift certificates, gym equipment, and vacation packages were offered as rewards. I’m not saying that these novelties have to be given in abundance, but they make for attractive rewards in the eyes of recreational players.

With rewards disappearing across the board for both high and low-volume players, you’d better get what’s available now before the bonuses totally dry up.

9.  Lottery Style Poker Games (i.e. Spin & Go’s)

Most major online poker sites / networks have rolled out lottery-style sit and go’s. These are small SNG’s where players try to win first place and the random prize that comes with it.

PokerStars has paid out multiple million dollar prizes through their Spin & Go’s, while888poker’s BLAST SNGs have offered up to a $450,000 payout.

Lottery-style poker can be good or bad, depending upon how you look at it. Below are two trains of thought:

  • Recreational players love these tables because they offer a chance to win huge prizes. Lottery SNGs are one of the few positive aspects of the industry with regard to drawing more players.
  • Lottery-style poker takes players away from regular SNGs, multi-table tournaments, and cash games. If you’re trying to grind out a living in poker, lottery SNGs aren’t a good way to do it because they involve so much variance.

To be honest, I enjoy lottery poker games because they’re exciting, and recreational players love them.

But since the point of this article is getting what you can out of internet poker before it becomes obsolete, lottery-style SNGs won’t help you.

10.  Poker Losing Coolness Factor

In the mid-2000s, it was hard to flip through TV channels without seeing as least one poker show.

Celebrity Poker Showdown, High Stakes Poker, NBC National Heads-Up Championship, Late Night Poker, and Poker After Dark were all staples that poker fans could look forward to during the poker boom.

High Stakes Poker and Poker After Dark were particularly notable because they featured iconic pros like Chris Ferguson, Doyle Brunson, Jennifer Harmon, Mike Matusow, Patrik Antonius, Phil Hellmuth, Phil Ivey, and Sammy Farha.

Poker was cool back in these days because everybody watched the TV shows and recognized the stars. The same can’t be said of today.

Most of the stars have either faded away or moved on to greener pastures in the business world. The poker stars of today are mostly younger guys who don’t talk much and focus on the action, rather than crafting memorable TV personas.

While there’s nothing wrong with worrying about success above all, it doesn’t do as much for TV / streaming audiences when there no animated characters.

Poker still retains a fair amount of popularity these days. But it’s no longer the cool game that the general population talks about.

11.  Games with Faster Loss Rates (i.e. Zoom, Turbos)

In 2010, Full Tilt introduced the revolutionary Rush Poker, which moves you to a new cash table as soon as you fold your hand. The idea is that you can get in more hands per hour, while cutting out the waiting time associated with regular poker games.

This invention soon brought many copycats, such as PokerStars’ Zoom and 888’s SNAP, because they wanted to capitalize on fast-fold poker.

This was an exciting poker format in the early 2010s. But I question what value fast-fold poker variants bring from an overall perspective.

If you’re a winning player, then fast-fold variants and turbo tournaments are a good way to increase your hourly rate. If you’re a losing player, though, these games only increase your loss rate.

Let’s look at examples:

  • Regular online poker table – a player sees 75 hands per hour in $0.50 / $1 no-limit hold’em, losing 2 big blinds per hour ($2 total).
  • SNAP poker table – The same player sees 225 hands per hour in $0.50 / $1 NLHE, losing 6 big blinds per hour ($6 total).
  • They play 15 hours per week, meaning their total weekly loses have increased from $30 to $90 in fast fold. This also means that their monthly losses have increased from $120 to $360.

Seeing your losses increase at this rate as a recreational player is devastating. And many players lose interest in poker, or think the game is rigged when their losses accelerate like this.

12. Gaming Affiliates Have Less Interest

Being an online poker affiliate was once a very lucrative prospect. In fact, I can remember when Poker.org sold for $1 million because top affiliates were so valued.

But the days of making a fortune as a poker affiliate site are in the past.

This isn’t to say that one can’t still make money promoting online poker. But most gaming affiliates would rather concentrate on casino gaming than spend their time promoting a declining industry.

Due to the fact that affiliates are less interested in poker, the game doesn’t get the same buzz across the internet.

Of course, you still have a few high-powered affiliates who are making money. But the difference is that you’ll no longer find dozens of strong affiliates pushing online poker.

13.  More Skill Based Online Gaming Options

One thing that accelerated poker’s popularity is the fact that there weren’t as many skill-based gaming options at the time. But this has changed in recent years with the rise of daily fantasy sports (DFS) and Esports.

DFS experienced a boom in 2015, amid heavy advertising during the NFL season. And while DFS is now experiencing the same difficulties with regulation that online poker is, it remains a viable skill-based alternative.

Esports is an up-and-coming industry that sees top gaming teams compete against each other. And Esports fans can bet on the action, choosing odds on teams just like they would with a sporting contest.

Neither Esports nor DFS has reached the popularity level that online poker did in its prime. But the key is that they offer serious competition for those looking to gamble based on skill.

Odds are that we’ll continue to see more skill-based betting activities arise in the future.

Conclusion

Despite all of the factors going against internet poker now, you can still make profits with the game. The key is that you put the work in by studying Twitch streams, training videos, reading books, and doing post session analysis.

But all of these strategy resources make for tougher competition, and a smaller edge for successful players. This means that your window to make solid online poker profits is closing by the year.

That being said, if you’ve ever dreamed of being a successful poker player, you need to take action now.

Regulation, bots, and lower rewards are turning poker into a game that will only offer profitability for so long.

The good news, though, is that you can use your skills in live poker once the online game gets too tough. But again, you need to take advantage of the internet game now because it’s on a downswing.

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